Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Watching this film evoked a section from the poem, “A Dream Deferred,” by Langston Hughes. “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run?” This concept comes into play several times during the film. In Rwanda, the Tutsis want to be able to live in peace and be saved from the bloodshed and chaos. They always come close to have this dream come true. However, some obstacle always blocks that dream. If one is a historian or Rwanda connoisseur, then they know the outcome of what happens, but this offers sympathy in one of the most inspirational and powerful films I’ve ever seen.

The film takes place in Rwanda (obviously) in 1994. Around this time, Rwanda is experiencing an ugly genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus. The situation worsens when the Rwandan president, who planned to unite the Hutus and Tutsis and stop the mass killings via a peace treaty, is killed when his plane is shot down and the Tutsis are blamed for it, resulting in a more massive slaughtering of Tutsis. Hope arrives in the form of an improbable hero: Paul Rusesabagina. Paul is a Hutu hotel manager, whose wife is Tutsi. As the problem is becoming greater, he provides salvation by allowing the Tutsis to take shelter in his hotel and bribe and persuade the Rwandan army officers. From then on, the film is a constant mission to help these people and get them to safer grounds.

This film draws striking parallels to Schindler’s List. Anyone reading the synopsis can confirm that. And to be honest, Schindler’s List is a better film. This film doesn’t push itself to the extreme, overbearingly ugly levels that Schindler did. Plus, Oskar Schindler was a more complex being. He seemed extremely detached from the situation and really seemed all about profit with limited empathy towards the victims until he morally unfolded into that kind of person. Paul seems more like a standard good guy and you believe that he would do the things he did. However, what sets Paul apart from a standard cinematic hero is that this hero has the face and spirit of Don Cheadle. You’d think that wouldn’t be a major difference, but it is, as Cheadle gives a veracious and vehement performance, which may possibly be the best of his career. Jamie Foxx deserved his Best Actor Academy Award for Ray, but if anyone else, by chance, were picked over him, it would’ve have to had been Don Cheadle with his rich, thick, and realistic accent and his quick-witted, intelligent persona that he employs. It is phenomenal to see the tactics that Paul uses to aid these victims (1,268, to be exact).

While Don Cheadle certainly is worth talking about, the supporting performances are outstanding, too. Nick Nolte shines in one of his best performances as UN officer Colonel Oliver, who finds a superb mixture of gruffness, lovability, and disorientation. He is stuck in a very uncomfortable position as he wonders how to get these civilians to a state of tranquility and security. This allows for a wonderful dynamic between him and Paul. The way they communicate their thoughts, conflicting as they can be, is beguiling. Sophie Okonedo gives a shattering and visceral performance as Paul’s wife, Tatiana. At first, I though that this actress didn’t receive many other cinematic opportunities afterwards. I thought it was one of those performances that is so brilliant that the performer will never be able to top it and eventually, the performer fizzles out. However, after looking at her filmography on Wikipedia (don’t judge), I discovered that she’s still hanging in there. So, instead of a great acting performance that leads to one’s downfall, it’s a great acting performance that actually (gasp) gives her more work. Either way, it’s a very strong performance that even allows for a little bit of humor. All I’ll say is: wait for the showerhead scene. Who knew a scene that begins tense and frightening unfolds into something so whimsical and frothy.

This film is deeply intriguing from beginning to end. The viewer is immediately drawn in by the monologue spoken over a pitch-black screen. And the intrigue keeps flowing. I said that Schindler’s List and this film have a similar story arc, but are different in execution. While both are searing and unabashed emotionally, they differ in nature. Schindler’s List relies on the macabre and repulsive facets of history. Hotel Rwanda relies on lamenting poetry. Scenes, such as the staggering morass on the Rwandan streets and the street of dead Tutsis, are simultaneously simply heartbreaking and profoundly horrifying.

However, those scenes didn’t click in my mind as much as one specific scene. It’s a scene where the United Nations proclaims that they must not intervene with the situation, given the disastrous situation in Somalia the year before (**coughs** Black Hawk Down **coughs**). All white citizens, such as white hotel customers and foreign officials, are evacuated from Rwanda, but the Rwandans themselves are left behind. As the bus with all of the white people leaves Rwanda, the camera focuses on the millions of Rwandans in the rain, watching their chance for survival vanish. It’s one of the saddest and frustrating cinematic scenes I’ve ever witnessed. What a lesson it preaches in such a short scene. If you can simply turn the other cheek to your brothers in a time of need, you are killing them whether you pull the trigger near their temples or do nothing, forcing them to fend for themselves. This is director and co-writer Terry George’s major film. He hasn’t really directed anything particularly eminent before or after this film. However, he sure as hell can do it, given the spic-and-span quality of this film. I absolutely love this film!

RATING: Four stars out of four

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